Ukrainian tour guide Uri convinces a group of American tourists to sign up for an “extreme tourism” experience while traveling across the Ukraine. The tour destination is Pripyat, a long abandoned city built close to the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which used to house employees before a catastrophic nuclear accident in 1986 forced all 50,000 inhabitants to abandon the city at a moment’s notice. Although reclaimed by nature the city remains largely intact (I looked at pictures online and would recommend doing so) and the group spend their day taking pictures and exploring abandoned apartments while marveling at the eerie post-apocalyptic surroundings. As the day grows long Uri tells everyone to pack it in but then finds that his (shitty) van will not start. Soon the group find themselves in a life and death struggle as they are plunged into darkness and forced to contend with wild animals and things that go bump in the night.
Setting a horror movie in an abandoned city in a foreign country is a stroke of genius. I would love to explore such a place (without the nuclear radiation and roaming bears – I’m just sayin’). Unfortunately director Bradley Parker eschews this amazing setting for chase sequences that largely take place in long, dark hallways and other claustrophobic situations. Admittedly this is a horror movie and horror movies often take place in long dark hallways and other claustrophobic settings but when you have an abandoned city as your backdrop it seems silly not to feature it more prominently. For example, how cool is this,
In the end the formulaic Chernobyl Diaries is a missed opportunity that disappoints on many levels including characters not behaving the way characters would behave given the circumstances and completely unsatisfying creature reveals. See it for the cool setting but expect to be disappointed. I'm giving in an extra half-star because of the setting.